The Variacam S35 has 2 Native ISO’s

ThisThis is a pretty short article, because most of what I’ve been writing for the last few months have been pushing 1000-1500 words, and are a bit hard on the eyes.

Reading that title might confuse you a little bit, so I hope to demystify this whole thing a little. So, what is a Native ISO? Well, a Native ISO is essentially the ISO that produces the most amount of Dynamic Range, often for the least visual noise. Like the base ISO on a FS7 is 2000, the base ISO on the Cinema Eos Series is 850 (I think) and Alexa’s also have pretty high native ISO’s (around 1000). Except the Variacam S35 has two.

So why not just have the highest base or native ISO possible? Very often this is the aim, to get the most amount of light and the most dynamic range, but this isn’t always practical. Having a sensor with a high base ISO like the FS7’s 2000 is great for most things, until you take the camera outside. If you want to preserve that Dynamic Range, you’ll need to slow down your aperture (and loose Depth of Field) or use tons of ND filters (basically sunglasses for a camera).

So the Variacam S35 ticks all the boxes in that respect, but having two base ISO’s is really awesome, because it makes the camera a low light beast. At 5000 ISO the picture is only slightly noisier than at 800, and virtually unrecognisable compared to 4000 (before the camera switches to its second native ISO).

I think this technology is really, really cool, but what’s to say that a camera couldn’t have three or more native ISO’s? I don’t know if this is technically possible, but Panasonic has proved that two is possible. Maybe a camera where EVERY ISO is a native ISO will come before too long, and that would just be…incredible, because at any ISO the frame would be noiseless and contain all it’s dynamic range.

Now the tech is very complicated, but what it sounds like is that Panasonic can amplify the analogue signal from the sensor at two different levels, one being 800 and the other being 5000. This is comparable to amplifying analogue audio signal gain and then digitising it. Digitally increasing the sound level of a signal captured at low gain also reduces greatly the signal:noise ratio, I.E. there is more noise and less signal. However, amplifying the sound before converting to digital increases the amount of signal greatly, whilst not massively increasing the amount of noise. How panasonic have translated this to a camera can only be described as magic…with added science.

I suspect we shall see a lot more cameras with many native ISOs in the future.


Write a variety of articles, when I get the time. Usually do more longform and analysis than I probably should. Also an editor.

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